Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jazz Is Read, Too

For all the bookworms out there, here's a list of interesting new titles on jazz and blues which will be hitting shelves during the next few months. The first one, Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness, is at the top of my reading list because I'd like to learn more about Pannonica de Koenigswarter (whom I've noted on Tumblr once or twice). Though I most likely won't be reading all of these titles, I'm sure someone out there will find them interesting and worth checking out. Dig in:

Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness
by David Kastin

W. W. Norton & Company, June 27, 2011
The first biography of the legendary Rothschild heiress who reigned as New York’s “Jazz Baroness.”

It’s a misty night in 1950s New York. A silver Rolls-Royce screeches to a stop at the neon-lit doorway of a 52nd Street jazz club. Behind the wheel is a glamorous brunette, a chinchilla stole draped over her shoulder and a long cigarette holder clinched in her teeth. After taking a pull from a small silver flask, she glides past the bouncer into the murky depths of the Three Deuces. The Jazz Baroness has arrived.

Raised in fairy-tale splendor, Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild de Koenigswarter (known as “Nica”) piloted her own plane across the English Channel, married a French baron, fought in the French Resistance, and had five children. Then she heard a recording of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Inspired by the liberating spirit of jazz, Nica left her family, moved to Manhattan, and began haunting the city’s nightclubs.

The tabloids first splashed her name across the headlines after Charlie Parker died in her hotel suite—a scandal that cast a dark shadow over the rest of her life. She retreated from the public eye, but through her ongoing ministrations to Monk and dozens of other musicians she became a legend. Nearly a score of jazz compositions have been written in her honor, including two of the most beloved classics of the genre: Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” and Monk’s “Pannonica.”

Nica’s Dream traces the story of a fascinating woman across her thirty-year reign as the Jazz Baroness, but it also explores a transformative era in twentieth-century American culture. Based on interviews with musicians, family members, historians, and artists, David Kastin’s probing biography unwraps the life of this enigmatic figure and evokes the vibrancy of New York during the birth of bebop, the first stirrings of the Beat Generation, and the advent of abstract expressionism. 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.

What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years
by Ricky Riccardi

Pantheon Books, June 21, 2011
Prodigiously researched and richly detailed, this is a comprehensive account of the remarkable final twenty-five years of the life and art of one of America’s greatest and most beloved musical icons.

Much has been written about Louis Armstrong, but the majority of it focuses on the early and middle stages of his long career. Now, Ricky Riccardi—jazz scholar and musician—takes an in-depth look at the years in which Armstrong was often dismissed as a buffoonish, if popular, entertainer, and shows us instead the inventiveness and depth of expression that his music evinced during this time.

These are the years (from after World War II until his death in 1971) when Armstrong entertained crowds around the world and recorded his highest-charting hits, including “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly!”; years when he collaborated with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck; when he recorded with strings and big bands, and, of course, with the All Stars, his primary recording ensemble for more than two decades. Riccardi makes clear that these were years in which Armstrong both burnished and enhanced his legacy as one of jazz’s most influential figures.

Eminently readable, informative, and insightful, here, finally, is a book that enlarges and completes our understanding of a peerless musical genius of commanding influence as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist.

Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House
by Daniel Beaumont

Oxford University Press, July 1, 2011
In June of 1964, three young, white blues fans set out from New York City in a Volkswagen, heading for the Mississippi Delta in search of a musical legend. So begins Preachin' the Blues, the biography of American blues signer and guitarist Eddie James "Son" House, Jr. (1902 - 1988). House pioneered an innovative style, incorporating strong repetitive rhythms with elements of southern gospel and spiritual vocals. A seminal figure in the history of the Delta blues, he was an important, direct influence on such figures as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.

The landscape of Son House's life and the vicissitudes he endured make for an absorbing narrative, threaded through with a tension between House's religious beliefs and his spells of commitment to a lifestyle that implicitly rejected it. Drinking, womanizing, and singing the blues caused this tension that is palpable in his music, and becomes explicit in one of his finest performances, "Preachin' the Blues." Large parts of House's life are obscure, not least because his own accounts of them were inconsistent. Author Daniel Beaumont offers a chronology/topography of House's youth, taking into account evidence that conflicts sharply with the well-worn fable, and he illuminates the obscurity of House's two decades in Rochester, NY between his departure from Mississippi in the 1940s and his "rediscovery" by members of the Folk Revival Movement in 1964. Beaumont gives a detailed and perceptive account of House's primary musical legacy: his recordings for Paramount in 1930 and for the Library of Congress in 1941-42. In the course of his research Beaumont has unearthed not only connections among the many scattered facts and fictions but new information about a rumored murder in Mississippi, and a charge of manslaughter on Long Island - incidents which bring tragic light upon House's lifelong struggles and self-imposed disappearance, and give trenchant meaning to the moving music of this early blues legend.

Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues
by Philip R. Ratcliffe

University Press of Mississippi, August 1, 2011
When Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966) was "rediscovered" by blues revivalists in 1963, his musicianship and recordings transformed popular notions of prewar country blues. At seventy-one he moved to Washington, D.C., from Avalon, Mississippi, and became a live-wire connection to a powerful, authentic past. His intricate and lively style made him the most sought after musician among the many talents the revival brought to light.

Mississippi John Hurt provides this legendary creator's life story for the first time. Biographer Philip Ratcliffe traces Hurt's roots to the moment his mother Mary Jane McCain and his father Isom Hurt were freed from slavery. Anecdotes from Hurt's childhood and teenage years include the destiny-making moment when his mother purchased his first guitar for $1.50 when he was only nine years old. Stories from his neighbors and friends, from both of his wives, and from his extended family round out the community picture of Avalon. U.S. census records, Hurt's first marriage record in 1916, images of his first autographed LP record, and excerpts from personal letters written in his own hand provide treasures for fans. Ratcliffe details Hurt's musical influences and the origins of his style and repertoire. The author also relates numerous stories from the time of his success, drawing on published sources and many hours of interviews with people who knew Hurt well, including the late Jerry Ricks, Pat Sky, Stefan Grossman and Max Ochs, Dick Spottswood, and the late Mike Stewart. In addition, some of the last photographs taken of the legendary musician are featured for the first time in Mississippi John Hurt.

Legends of Jazz
by Bill Milkowski

White Star Publishers, October 4, 2011
Arguably America's most profound cultural contribution, jazz has evolved for over a hundred years since its birth in the ethnic gumbo of New Orleans at the dawn of the 20th century. This elegant volume presents a portrait gallery of 50 eminent musical legends, from Jelly Roll Morton, perhaps the inventor of the art form, to contemporary axman Joe Lovano, who contributes a foreword. Each figure is featured in handsome vintage photographs and a pithy, revealing biography.

Portraits include: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Wynton Marsalis, and many more!

Jazz: Photographs and Recollections
by Bob Willoughby

Evans Mitchell Books, November 1, 2011
The West Coast, 1950s. Bob Willoughby worked late into the night developing and printing his photographs with his radio firmly dialed into these new sounds. You will find his incredible images of the most famous artists of the time.

Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz
by Benjamin Cawthra

University of Chicago Press, November 1, 2011
Miles Davis, supremely cool behind his shades. Billie Holiday, eyes closed and head tilted back in full cry. John Coltrane, one hand behind his neck and a finger held pensively to his lips. These iconic images have captivated jazz fans nearly as much as the music has. Jazz photographs are visual landmarks in American history, acting as both a reflection and a vital part of African American culture in a time of immense upheaval, conflict, and celebration. Charting the development of jazz photography from the swing era of the 1930s to the rise of black nationalism in the ’60s, Blue Notes in Black and White is the first of its kind: a fascinating account of the partnership between two of the twentieth century’s most innovative art forms.

Benjamin Cawthra introduces us to the great jazz photographers—including Gjon Mili, William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Francis Wolff, Roy DeCarava, and William Claxton—and their struggles, hustles, styles, and creative visions. We also meet their legendary subjects, such as Duke Ellington, sweating through a late-night jam session for the troops during World War II, and Dizzy Gillespie, stylish in beret, glasses, and goatee. Cawthra shows us the connections between the photographers, art directors, editors, and record producers who crafted a look for jazz that would sell magazines and albums. And on the other side of the lens, he explores how the musicians shaped their public images to further their own financial and political goals.

This mixture of art, commerce, and racial politics resulted in a rich visual legacy that is vividly on display in Blue Notes in Black and White. Beyond illuminating the aesthetic power of these images, Cawthra ultimately shows how jazz and its imagery served a crucial function in the struggle for civil rights, making African Americans proudly, powerfully visible.